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Who Would You Call at 3:00 in the Morning? 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011

Relationships That Give Life:
Who Would You Call at 3:00 in the Morning?
1 Samuel 18:1-9
John 15:12-17

The digital clock read 3:02 as the ring of the phone startled me out of a deep sleep. "Todd, I hate to bother you at this hour, but we are at the jail where my son is being booked…." At that point his voice trailed off and all I could hear were his muffled sobs. Until, finally he said, "Todd, would you come down and sit with me? I cannot do this alone." I dressed quickly and got to the jail as fast as I could. We listened to the police describe what his son would be facing, and then the man's attorney arrived and we talked some more. At sunup I walked to the car with this heartbroken father, and do you know what he said? "Todd, I've lived in this town for twenty-five years, started my business here, lived in the same neighborhood for the last fifteen. But I couldn't think of one friend I could call tonight to come be with me when this happened." 

Do you have such a friend? Someone you know you could call at 3:00 in the morning? And are you the kind of friend someone else could call on, confident that you would want to be there with them? When the Gallup research people did surveys on the whole topic of friendship, they discovered the average American possesses fewer than five friends who they believe they could call on in times of crisis. And many Americans, when surveyed, said that they had not one friend they could count upon in a moment of extreme need.

Dr. Ralph Keyes wrote a book entitled, We the Lonely People. In the book, he says the three things Americans value most are mobility, convenience and privacy. And of these three, the thing we cherish most is our privacy. A number of years ago sociologist Robert Bellah engaged in an epic study of American culture he entitled, Habits of the Heart. In it he chronicled what he called "the cancer of individualism" that has swept our society, crowding out a sense of community that was once foundational to our self-understanding. Bellah says we now prize technology more than we value relationships, and he sees the computer screen as a kind of symbol of our isolation from each other. Bellah says the irony is that while technology allows us to communicate in more ways than ever, people of our culture may be lonelier than ever.

It has not always been this way. Up until the period of the Renaissance, people did not even think of themselves as individuals. They defined themselves by their language, or culture, or tribe, or family, or even by their religion. We saw and understood ourselves as part of some community of belonging. But since the Renaissance, and especially with the invention of the printing press, all of that has changed, much for the better. It is wonderful that we have discovered the value of the individual, and paid attention to the needs we each have for meaning and expression. But what concerns Bellah is this: With so much focus on the individual, upon "me and my life," people seem to be pulling away from each other and a sense of community is hard to find. It is why the Beatles struck gold when they asked fifty years ago, "All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"

James Lynch of John Hopkins University, author of a book called, The Broken Heart, found that if a person feels lonely, he or she would be ten times more likely to suffer from heart disease or cirrhosis of the liver. Mother Theresa said, "The worst disease that anyone can experience is the disease of feeling unwanted."

Folks, our worlds are full of people who feel just that way. You may not even see them, but I assure you that they work alongside you, they live in your neighborhood, they walk the hallways of your school. And sometimes, I bet you would be surprised who some of them are. I am convinced we all need to learn how to be better friends to each other, because loneliness grips people everywhere!

Surely the lack of real friends was a big part of King Saul's problems. You would not think a king would be lonely. After all, as the Bible describes Saul, he had it all – looks, power, wealth. But King Saul never learned to trust another person, one of the worst symptoms of loneliness. David wished more than anything else to be Saul's friend. But Saul was so threatened by David's popularity, and so unsure of his own worth, that he set out to destroy David. And it is against that backdrop that the Bible tells us of one of the most beautiful friendships ever described. Jonathan was King Saul's son, and yet we are told "that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David." These two men could count upon each other, no matter what.

Do you have such a friend? Someone you know will be there for you, no matter what? Aristotle thought long and hard about friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics. He noted that human beings make three kinds of friendships. First are those who are friends because of affection. These are the people to whom we are attracted, people whose company we enjoy, people we find easy to like, folks who are fun or interesting to us. Aristotle says that "as soon as the reasons for which we loved each other no longer present themselves, friendships of affection fade." Friendships of affection are enjoyable, but such friends are not the ones we can call on at 3:00 in the morning. A second kind of friendship Aristotle observed were friendships of advantage. These are the people who are our friends because they are useful to us. Often work friends fit into this category, as can friends with prominent social standing or significant wealth or status or power. These are friends who do favors for each other, and are useful to have. It is said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved to have people around him, but that he only made friends with people who could help him work his various agendas. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin loved Roosevelt, but she told the truth about F.D.R.: "For all his warmth and capacity to make friends instantly, he was a man without a deep commitment to anyone. He enjoyed people, but he rarely gave himself to them." All of us have friendships that fit into this category, but if these are the only friendships we ever develop, we will still be very lonely late at night when all grows dark and grim.

The last category of friendship for Aristotle was friendships of admiration. That is, we admire the qualities we see in someone. We have respect for their character, their integrity and their gifts, and these feelings are mutual. Aristotle said that these friendships have the greater chance of enduring, because a person's character is not apt to change. It is why we sing, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," for in Hebrews it was said of Him, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." Our dearest and closest friends probably fit into this category of being people we admire. I had dinner with such a friend in Atlanta Thursday night, and will spend this week with a precious handful of Presbyterian minister friends at Montreat I have met with for twenty-two years. It is one of the biggest reasons I am still in the ministry thirty-one years after ordination and have not lost my passion or enthusiasm.

One thing is certain: The best way to have a good friend is to be a good friend. That is why I want to close with three quick principles of friendship. I believe they mark the kinds of friends that God wants for us to be to each other. Mark them, and then ask honestly, "Do I have these kinds of friends? And am I this kind of friend to others?"

First, a true friend is an encourager, even a cheerleader. Jonathan delighted in David. David delighted in Jonathan. They truly wanted what was best for each other. Now let me ask you: If you were given a major promotion, or received a large, unexpected inheritance, or if your child were given recognition that others' kids did not get, if something very good happened to you, who would you be able to call, knowing that they would be delighted with your good news, and not feel jealous or envious or competitive, and hence bad about your good news? I have had people tell me that they hated to share their good news, for fear of making their friends feel bad. But a true friend is one you would not hesitate to call, so secure are you in the knowledge that they want what is good for you, and would only delight in your success.

A true friend wants what is best for you, and shows up in fair and foul weather just the same. When my time in life came when I truly needed a friend, I found out who my friends really were, and who they were not. When Alger Hiss was accused of espionage and his name was on the front page of every newspaper in America with the scandalous charges, Dean Acheson made a public visit to Hiss. "A friend does not forsake a friend just because he is in jail."

Years ago, when I was in seminary, a number of classmates of mine were from the same home church, First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem. The minister of that church was a man named Keith Brown. Keith followed Lloyd Ogilvie in that pulpit, and Keith, by his own admission, did not preach like Lloyd, or look like Lloyd, or write books like Lloyd. But the church boomed during Keith Brown's years, far more than it ever did when Lloyd was there. One time these pals of mine were talking about Keith, and my friend Bob Norris said this: "Keith Brown is a great applauder of other people's gifts." What a lovely thing that is to have said about you. Could that be said of you?

Secondly, a true friend is a confidant. He or she is someone you can talk to and utterly trust. You can share your problems with a true friend with no fear at all that you will hear about them somewhere else. You know that they place what you tell them in the vault of their soul. A friend is someone who keeps your confidence.

One of my all-time favorite episodes of Andy Griffith is called, "Mr. McBeevee." The episode opens with Opie telling Barney about his new horse. Barney asks Andy why he bought Opie a horse. "I didn't. Opie created an imaginary horse." Barney sees serious trouble brewing in this, and urges Andy to take action. Andy says it's just harmless for a boy to imagine a make believe horse. Then Opie comes in a day later telling about his new friend, Mr. McBeevee. Opie says, "Mr. McBeevee walks among the treetops and wears a big shiny, silver hat." Barney is appalled and warns Andy to step in and stop this. That night, Andy goes up to talk to Opie. "Just admit Mr. McBeevee isn't real, and all will be fine." Opie will not budge from his story, so Andy goes down and tells Barney that Opie insists he is real. "I can't believe you actually believe in Mr. McBeevee. Andy corrects Barney, "I didn't say I believe in Mr. McBeevee. I believe in Opie." And sure enough, Mr. McBeevee turns out to be a real man who works for the phone company and fixes telephone lines.

A true friend is a cheerleader and a confident. Finally, a true friend cares enough to confront. You learn over time who your true friends are because they will tell you not only what you want to hear, but also what you need to hear. A real friend will tell you what no one else will dare let you know … but a friend is not a hit and run driver on the road of life. A real friend confronts, and then sticks by your side in good times and bad. Friendship is strengthened by honesty only when your friend sticks with you, even risking popularity for doing so. When Richard Nixon was caught up in the Watergate scandal that cost him his presidency and his reputation, Harold Macmillan wrote a letter to his longtime friend. Macmillan gave Nixon some painful, frank advice, most of which Nixon failed to follow at the time. But Macmillan also wrote, "I feel impelled, in view of our long friendship, to send you a message of sympathy and good will. May these clouds roll away." When MacMillan died, Nixon wrote a tribute to him in The Times of London: "What you learn when you fail is that you hear from your friends."

On March 15, 1990, Lee Atwater collapsed while addressing a political gathering in Washington, D.C. He was at that time Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was rushed to the hospital and an inoperable cancerous brain tumor was discovered. While in the hospital, he heard from hundreds of people, even from some of his political enemies, many of whom Atwater had earned by being downright mean to them. He was overwhelmed. And he said, "I don't deserve the kind of friendship I have, because I haven't been that kind of friend." He then wept. And Atwater vowed to be a different kind of friend from that day until the day he died.

Don't wait for a crisis to find out who your true friends are. Be that kind of friend today, so you won't ever have to wonder who you would call at 3:00 in the morning.

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